He is still up there

I walked out of the wholesaler furious at the situation I found there - staff standing around with nothing to do, empty shelves and a sense of desolation. What on earth do these idiots in Government think they are doing? I asked myself. I decided to walk over the road and see the Managing Director, an old friend, to ask him what they are going to do - it was quite obvious to all but the blind, that they were going down the tubes. An old business with a proud record of service to the community.

Arriving at reception the man who answers the phone and directs visitors was reading his Bible. Not much else to do I thought. I greeted him and asked if the MD was in his office. He said he was out - but I could see his secretary. I said no she could not really help me with the issue I wanted to talk about.

I then asked him what they were going to do about the collapse of the business. Receptionists are like taxi drivers - they know everything. His response to me with a broad smile was 'He is still up there!!' At first I though he was saying the MD was upstairs and then I suddenly realized he was saying God is still 'up there' and if that was the case we should not worry, just trust in Him.

I felt as if I had been hit with a pole. How could I be so stupid as to think that we could actually do something about this self-inflicted crisis? I had let my faith slip, given in to despair and just wanted to vent my spleen on another victim. I walked back to my car and resolved to trust more and to 'walk by faith and not by sight'. Nothing had changed, but I felt better and went on to scour the City for product eventually dispatching a substantial load to the store, which was sold out in 24 hours. We are down, but not out and we are not going to let these evil people win.

Yesterday I had to speak to the staff in our factory here in Bulawayo. I first met with the Workers Committee and then with the entire staff - we had no electricity so they were all idle and we lost no production. They have worked for us for more than 15 years, many are known to me personally and we have been through some tough times when nobody thought the company could survive. Business is like that - our main concern is not profit, it's how to stay in business and ahead of the myriad of problems that confront business every day.

Just a month ago we had a full order book and looked as if we were set for a good year. Then came the price control exercise 'the neutron bomb campaign' and we lost every order that we had from local customers. Major firms were unable to take delivery of product and they called to freeze any further production. We slowed down and then stopped operations - sent everyone home on paid leave for a week and then another week and finally tried to reopen on half time.

When you are a low paid industrial worker, any loss of earnings poses an immediate crisis. They have no savings to fall back on and no alternative sources of income. Workers in Zimbabwe are already struggling under a regime that has reduced their real earnings by 90 per cent in a decade. So this latest crisis was not long in impacting on our staff and their families.

I explained that operation Neutron Bomb was designed to bankrupt all companies and force them to either sell out to the State, or to sell a majority holding to individuals approved by the State - it was intended to extend Zanu control to the entire economy so that they could control the residual population and dictate how they would vote in the next election.

Never underestimate the wisdom and understanding of the poor. They know what is going on and in many cases appreciate the implications well before the better off do. They listened intently to what I had to say and then we discussed our survival strategy. We talked about how we might find food for them and their families, what they needed, what we might do from a business point of view, what sales were trying to do to get orders and to see what new products we could put out to avoid the price controls that were designed to cripple us financially.

We then said that they would have to go home for another week but come back on the 20th when we expected that we would be able to resume production and full pay. An act of faith if ever there was one! But I said we all had to play our role, if we got an order, lets get it out fast and to the satisfaction of the client. Lets work together to defeat this monster in our midst so that we might be able to play our part in the eventual recovery and reconstruction of this country.

Nearly all our workers are MDC - we have some Zanu PF stalwarts in our midst, but they are a minority, unable to let go of the fact that their Party brought us to independence. Even these faithful now feel let down by Zanu PF and are watching and waiting to see what will happen, they know this nightmare cannot go on for much longer. One asked me plaintively - 'if the MDC gets into power, won't they be the same as Zanu?' This caused much laughter and I did not answer because I think he knows what I think about that possibility. It could happen, as in Zambia, but at least if we restore our democracy we can throw the new regime out with a simple vote.

Yesterday I stood in a queue with an elderly Ndebele women. We got talking and she said to me - not knowing whom I was, that 'we at least have not made the mistake of fighting.' We have chosen the right road, the road for us back to sanity and recovery lies through peaceful, democratic elections and a legal transfer of power. Lets not let go of that route, it is the right one and we will eventually win through and in the meantime trust God to provide our daily bread. He is still up there!!

Eddie Cross
9th August 2007